Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Construction Industry Remains Optimistic

According to the Construction Association of Michigan's (CAM) quarterly business sentiment and expectations survey, we can remain optimistic as business conditions continue to improve.

Contractor sentiment suggests building activity increased to 65.6 in April from 60.0 in March. (Chart #1 all variables).  Meanwhile their expectations for continued growth into the next quarter remain optimistic and  increased to 71.9 in April from 68.5 in March. (Chart #2 all variables)

(Chart 1, Building Activity Increasing <50)


Despite the slowing economy as reported in the general media, Michigan regional contractors and construction managers experienced a 2.8% growth in bid requests this year. Awards in the near term are accelerating as contracts for new construction and renovations also increased by 4.8% between February and April 2012, over 2 times the amount experienced in the same period last year.   

(Chart 2 Expected Growth)

Input costs for materials are moderating while labor costs continue to be a challenge. The workforce remains steady to declining and expectations suggest labor costs are moderate with materials. Overall, the industry remains optimistic that it will experience continued growth which is great news for everyone in this region.

About Midwest Mosaic:
Midwest Mosaic, Inc. provides skilled ceramic tile installation services to the residential and commercial construction markets in the tri-state region near Toledo, Ohio USA, including; Detroit, Ann Arbor, Cleveland, Sandusky, Columbus, Dayton, Fort Wayne, and South Bend.  The company features market pricing with superior performance, more value for your money. Midwest clients include Kroger, the #1 US grocery, and Wal Mart, the #1 retailer, as well as many prominent private individuals.  Mosaic is led by Malcolm Campbell, MBA, IMI, CIT, LEED-Green Assoc.  Campbell provides articles such as these for insight into the current market conditions.


Thursday, May 31, 2012

Putting Back; Reinvesting in the Biz

A rare light week for the production crew, we are putting back while there is a lull in the action.

Casey is making repairs to the van and improvements to the interior. A new place to hang trowels opens up a storage compartment, one of six - a 17% improvement in capacity.  Atta boy Casey!

I'm in the basement, cooking up marketing plans.

We'll be back at it next week, on tour with stops in New Castle IN, Wheeling WV; while some of the crew will hang back to finish another house job yet to be revealed.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Project Completion; Berkey Shower

A few days ago we saw the crew smiling and tiling out at this shower somewhere in Berkey, OH. Here's a photo of their completed work. Attaboy guys!


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ceramic tile on ceilings? Yep we do that.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Bad Day Tiling is Better Than a Good Day at Work

Here's the crew out at a shower in Berkery. All smiles.

Happy tiling!


Monday, May 21, 2012

Fred Z Does it Again; Fireplace Surround

While Fred Z can be found out at The Pool doing the seasonal coping repair, or trying his hand at brick pavers; recently he finished this fireplace surround in travertine mosaics.  Now that we have the photo, we are sharing it with you.  You like?


Friday, May 18, 2012

Brick pavers; Yes we do that!

Here's Fred on a lovely May afternoon in a lovely flower garden putting in a brick paver path. Atta boy Fred.

Brick Pavers; Yep we do that!


Thursday, April 19, 2012

New Project Award: Norfolk & Southern

Midwest Mosaic is going to work for Warren Buffett! 

We just received a subcontract from Ohio Valley based Dunlop & Johnston to provide tile and and installation labor at Norfolk and Southern Railroad's (NYSE:NSC) Bellvue, Ohio facility.  The project features two pairs of employee bathroom and showers plus a washroom in the perch of the yard switching tower.  How cool is that!?

At nearly 4000 square feet, the project will keep a crew of three working for about a month.  Onward job creation!

We are pleased to add Mr. Richard Fajardo to the project to assist compliance with two programs; 1) Ohio Bureau of Worker Compensation Drug Free Workplace and 2. E-Rail Safe, a Homeland Security program. Fajardo writes on HR and management matters at Motivated Innovation, and is an expert in these things.

In 2007, as a bet on the impending recovery, Buffett acquired a stake in NSC through his flagship fund, Berkshire Hathaway.  Mr. Warren knows a good value when he sees it. While the recovery may not be as strong as he anticipated, we knew we had a good value all along, and we're glad to have caught his attention.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Feature Project; The Tower of Shower (Video)

About the time you were finishing off the last of your Thanksgiving leftovers and were beginning to put up your 2011 Christmas lights, we put the finishing touches on this edition of the Musings Feature Project, The Tower of Shower.

It is now April 2.  The clients, who wish to remain anon, have been happy customers for going on four months now.  Wow! how the time flies. Meantime we have been out doing what LOTC's (Low-Overhead-Trade-Contractors) do, spending time in the field, getting dirty, getting tired, and just plain having fun not having to report to the same old cube day after day to pick up doing the same old same old.

Since the time of Yule, the crew and I have been out in the mud the blood and the beer; finishing up the Mouse House, adding first one Kroger now on the third, as well as stops at the Historic St Patricks, the Bakery Building, and a reprise at the Manor.

As in our last feature, the Forsyth-Vaquero, we bring you loads of content; photos and video. Enjoy.  And be sure to hit the like button above and leave comments below.

Design by Mary Glowaki, AIA
Photos by Tina Gionis, MFA
Tiles by Marca Corona, Italy
Distributed by Virginia Tile Company, Livonia MI

Linear Drain; You Know You Want One!

Two Story Niche

Spacious, No!?
Video Reveal

Before Video

Link to Customer Feedback (here)

Happy Tiling!

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Perfection Premium; Can You Afford it?


I have two tile layers.Both have Own tools and are fully capable of running large tile jobs and leading tiling crews.

I have two identical projects; new school buildings within the same school district.  The projects are located within my area of operations and close to both leaders' homes. Both men lead similar crews such that one could not differentiate the outcomes of one crew from the other based on individual or group abilities.

Now leader one is quite mercenary hard working and well loved by his crew. He wastes no effort in all that he does toward goal accomplishment, completing tile work.  He harbors no wasted effort in his crew and similarly he is always teaching his speed tricks, and how to focus on completion as opposed to quality. As you can imagine, his work is not without defect.  At the same time he is ever professional and expects the same from his crew, so his quality control is still quite tight.  Its just that he has developed an intuitive understanding of where he and his crew may bend on quality

Leader two on the other hand is more quality oriented and demands near perfection from his crew. He is ever critical about the work of his fellows. Rarely gives positive feedback. 

Leader one uses 400 mandays to complete his school, leader two 500 mandays.  Leader two has a zero-punch list, he requires no additional effort going back to fix his work, while leader one requires 20 mandays of rework to remedy defects in his work all of which are but minor nuisances.

The 80 manday difference is what I call the perfection premium.  Can you afford it?


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Crew at Kroger Mt. Vernon

Here's the Crew on Mosaic's third Kroger project in nearly as many months.  Left is Casey and right is Eric.  Eric's a 15 year veteran of tile setting while Casey is the noob.  A quick study he, Eric and I are teaching him the weirding way.

Casey's a quick study.  Gets it the first time.  Humble and accumulating own tools. Gotta love that. Eric did high end custom homes in Stone Oak during the housing boom.  Not so much of that to be had these days so he's glad to be with us, we feel the same.

Both fellows are from Toledo's North End.  Woodward HS products through and through, they enjoy regaling me of triumphant stories from the 'hood.  Wish I could video tape them to get you some reality TV type content for you.  Warning though some of it is R-A-W raw.  We sure laugh it up on our commute back and forth each week to this store in Mt. Vernon, OH.  You just have to be there.

And where is the boss??????????

Off for a scoop of ice cream?

Back to work you knuckleheads!

Happy Tiling!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New Project Award; Historic St. Patrick's Church (Video)

Deco Tile
One of our customers gave us the contract to tile the rectory shower room at the Historic St. Patrick's church, Toledo, Ohio. The current resident, Rev. Dennis Hartigan, is enthusiastic about the project having selected the classic marble look with a Etruscan Brown tile from American Olean's Catarina line.  The room will feature a 57" wainscot with a deco band, full wall tile in the shower over top of a custom shaped concrete floor with integral rubber waterproofing, and a recessed soap dish; pretty much the Full Monty for tile work in a residential bathroom situation.  The project will provide the crew at Mosaic 10 man days of work. Ready for tile video below.  Happy Tiling!

Etruscan Brown


Monday, January 16, 2012

The Four Factors of Performance; or How You Rate

I'm gonna put this down real simple. If you are doing direct labor in the tile biz, this is how you get rated.

The four factors of performance

1. Productivity - By and large, tile work is bid, secured, and paid by the square foot.  You are rated based on how many square feet of finished goods you turn per man-day.  

Don't be confused by the day where you drop in 300 square feet of tile to thinking you are a 300 square foot a day hand, because you are not that fast.  I have yet to meet that guy.  You still have to go back and put in the 50 final feet the next day and grout it the following and even go back a fourth day (half-day really) to final clean and caulk.  That's a 100SF/MD rating in my book.  What I am looking at is 350 square feet "in and grouted", turn-key work, taking three and one half days. Or, 100 square feet per man-day.  

I figure my jobs with a productivity goal in mind, priced with an underlying value of labor, the productivity goal is based on over 15-years experience, meticulous record keeping on the past performance of 100's of men (a few women too) on 100's of jobs (jobs with a wide range of scope - big vs small, thickset vs thinset, cement grout vs epoxy and so on).  This is a science to me.  You are rated on whether you under or over perform the goal set by so many competent hands who have come before you.  

When you provide a good or service at a cost less than the price paid, you have a business.  You have no business being in the business if you have it the other way around.  That's called charity.  Don't be a charity case. Do shoot to over perform the goal. It's rewarding.

2. Quality - Quality is vitally important for getting paid. So, is it any wonder that quality matters to performance?  

Quality is a little trickier to measure than productivity.  Let's just say, you know it when you see it.  This goes for the expert and the lay person (our customer) as well.  Your work should exhibit PLFS (Plum Level Flat and Square), water should flow to drains (no bird baths), completed tile work should be as clean as when it came out of the box (no grout haze, no glue smears, and no pencil marks - no Sharpies please; I know a good place to stick them).  Grout should be uniform in color and tooling, full joints, and no shrink cracks. 

You are responsible for quality control; I am responsible for quality assurance.  Your guiding principle should be, "Would you accept that in your house?".  If so, proceed.  If I question your work, it is because I am looking at it with an eye to sell your work to our customer.  As stated above, I have a lot of experience trying to sell crap work back when I was young and dumb.  It cost me a lot of money.  I can assure you if I don't think I can sell your work, I don't think I can long pay you to work for me. 

Tidy Work Area
The tilers work area should be kept clean and tidy.  I have heard other trades refer to tilers as pigs.  Look, in case you haven't noticed we take up a big foot print when we are on the job, we tend to linger where there is tile. And, we start messy.  Is it any wonder then that "piggy" sticks?  But this doesn't need to be, for we finish clean and beautiful.  Emphasize clean and beautiful each day and with respect toward the work of others.  Pay particular attention to your slops, the cement slurry in the bottom of your wash and whip buckets.  See that these do not find their way into the heirloom rose bushes or the mop sink trap.  Both are expensive to replace.

Even though rating quality is difficult, I can use rework as a proxy for quality.  Where zero punch list is the goal, rework is the measurable.  On large jobs (team basis), quality is measured in terms of dollars rework over project value, the smaller the better.  On small jobs (individual basis) rework has a direct impact on your productivity.

3. Attendance - This is too simple. How can you perform if you don't show up?  

On an individual basis this makes complete sense; But let's look at it on a group basis.  I build tile teams of three to five guys to tackle big jobs.  You don't think it matters if you, as one of three or one of five, do not show up on any given day?  Do you think it matters to Lebron James if he has to go against the Celtics with four for the day?  Same goes on the tile job, just like basketball tile is a game of bodies on the floor.  Miss one man for a day is bad enough, but could you imagine if each guy on a five-man crew missed one day each (different days) all in the same week?  How can I promise our customer to deliver their floor on time if, provided room for five on the job, I only give them four?  Missing my delivery I would not long have their business, so I cannot long tolerate absenteeism. 

You are measured on days worked over days scheduled for work.  For example, I schedule you for 100 work days in a year and you miss 10, you show up the other 90.  That's a 90/100 (90%), an A in school an F with me.  Here STFU means show up. 

4. Attitude - This factor is by far the most subjective, and is so by design.  On a scale of 1 to 5, one being worst 5 being best, do you bring me problems? Or, do you bring me solutions?  Do you grind me or others on the team down? Or, do you build us up?  

Muzzle it Bitches
Attitude is everything.  I kid you not.  I have bounsed slow guys who; do A-quality work, show up always, are task oriented rarely taking things personally, and once or twice in a period help me solve particularly difficult situations.  I call this rewarding maturity.  I have fired producers who; make excuses for their defects, miss work, are late a lot, and fail to advise me in a timely fashion about inventory on the job until they grab the last tile.  I call this addition by subtraction.

Always bring your best attitude to work. It may just be the factor which keeps you employed.

While not an exhaustive list, in my experience if an individual scores highly on these four with me, then he or she is doing a whole host of little things which lead to on the job success and customer satisfaction.  

What do you think?


Monday, January 9, 2012

CAM Construction Activity Index for SE Michigan

From CAM Online

CAM, the Construction Association of Michigan, reports the results of its October Activity survey, in alignment with the previous Spending Plans survey. Survey is for commercial construction, non-residential building. This is comparing actual to expectations in a sentiment based format. Information is lagging and does not account for current events, such as; October Stock Market rebound, November Elections, improving headline unemployment.

Graph of Actual Data "Activity Index"

Graph of Expectations "Spending Plans Index"
Bottom Line: Respondents are seeing fewer bid opportunities, fewer awards, and an increase in material prices.  

My Analysis

My experience confirms this too.  While I have seen as much bidding as I can handle, I have had to increase my range of interest (drawing a circle around Toledo, the circle just got bigger), yet my awards (bid-to-win ratio) are down on a relative basis.  In the meantime my drywall supplier keeps sending me letters about double digit increases in drywall and metal studs, not that I buy much of these, but they are important proxies. Meanwhile DalTile is currently advising me through their quote notes, that come June all orders will bear a 3% freight surcharge. While not double digit inflation, it is nonetheless upward.  Price increases are notoriously hard to pass on to clients, especially while activity is down. This is extreme margin pressure.

Expect the shake out to continue. Only the leanest most professional organisations will survive;

Some suggestions:

  • Find innovative ways to cut overhead
  • Speed up receipts.
  • Watch those credit lines.
  • Call on your customers, ask for their business.
  • Be very selective about who gets your best number.
  • Stick with the winners.
Happy Tiling


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tec Specialty Rolls Out Power Grout (Video)

Bob Dailey from Tec Specialty joins us to describe the features and benefits of Power Grout. With free sample in hand, we look forward to using it on The HiYaa! project this month.  Thanks Bob.

Happy Tiling!